What is Non-verbal (NVC) Communication?

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“They have…eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel.”

                                                (Psalms 115:5-7)

Hundreds of attempts have been made to model the communication process.  This reflects the fact that communication is a complex activity and that there are many varieties of communication experiences.  Some models try to describe interpersonal communication, others describe mass communication, and others still organisational communication, and so on.  All models are an attempt to analyse the communication process into its essential elements and thereby facilitate further discussion and research.  Broadly speaking, two main ways of theorising communication have developed; the Process theory, which is concerned with the act of communication, and the semiotic theory, which is concerned with the interpretation of texts.  

Before I compare and contrast Language and Non-verbal Communication, I think it is important to explain these terms individually.  What each term means and what are their functions are.

What is Non-verbal (NVC) Communication?

“Train your eye and your kinaesthetic sense” (Wolfgang 1979)

According to Aaron Wolfgangs book, ‘Non-verbal Behaviour’, human communication consists of an intricate combination of verbal and non-verbal signals.  Verbal aspects of messages are elaborated and supported in a number of ways by non-verbal communication.  In order to understand human verbal communication, we need to know about these non-verbal components.  Non-verbal communication (NVC) can be studied experimentally as a problem in encoding and decoding; it can also be studied as part of a sequence, using methods of linguistics or ethnology.  This kind of analysis has theoretical implications for the nature of human communication and has practical implications in a number of fields.

A sender is in a certain state, or possesses some information; this is encoded into a message that is then decoded by a receiver.  The meaning of a non-verbal signal can be given in terms of how it is encoded or decoded.   For example in Aaron Wolfgangs book he talks about a role-play experiment.

 Mehrabian (Wolfgang 1968 p141) asked his subjects to address a hat stand, imagining it to be a person.  Male subjects who liked the hat stand looked at it more, did not have their hands on their hips, and stood closer.

Non-verbal signals are often “unconscious,” i.e., are outside the focus of attention.  Signals like dilated pupils are unconsciously sent and received, perhaps signifying sexual attraction.  Signals may be analogical, as with gesture similar to the object described or some facial expressions, e.g. showing the teeth by animals, which is part of an act of biting.  Or signals can have arbitrary meanings as the result of past associations, as with clothes, hairstyles, or conventional gestures.  Non-verbal signals may have meanings that are not readily expressed in words.

 There are research methods for finding such meanings, such as multidimensional scaling, in which subjects are asked to rate the similarity between photographs of facial expressions; this generates dimensions defined only in terms of the photographs.  Some non-verbal signals appear to have no subjective meaning at all, though they do influence behaviour, as in the case of small head nods or shifts of gaze.

  Such signals may be said to have a behavioural meaning.  Similar considerations may be applied to some ritual signals, like handshakes, which accomplish a change of relationship but have no obvious subjective meaning.

Non-verbal communication includes facial expression and gaze, proxemics, self-presentation, spatial construction, décor and paralinguistic features.  Non-verbal communication can be highly specific from a cultural point of view.

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The process of sending and receiving wordless messages by means of facial expression, gaze, gestures, postures, and tones of voice come under non-verbal communication.  Also included are grooming habits, body positioning in space, and consumer product design (e.g. clothing cues, food products, artificial colours and tastes, media images and computer-graphic displays.)  Non-verbal cues include all expressive signs, signals, and cues (audio, visual, tactile, chemical, etc.—which are used to send and receive messages apart from manual sign language and speech.  We all give and respond to thousands of non-verbal messages daily in our personal and professional lives.  

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